Creeps from the Deep

          The Gulf oil spill, terrible though it is, has focused attention on one of the least-known environments on earth. Scientists used to believe that the deep ocean was uninhabited. As scientist Tim Flannery explains, “The eternal dark, the almost inconceivable pressure, and the extreme cold that exist below one thousand meters were, [scientists] thought, so forbidding as to have all but extinguished life. The reverse is in fact true....(Below 200 meters) lies the largest habitat on earth.”
          While less than 10% of this area has been explored by humans, what we have discovered to date has found its way into children’s books filled with tantalizing glimpses of ten-foot-long red worms and the enormous clams, crabs and tube worms that thrive around deep hydrothermal vents. 

          In “Creeps from the Deep,” Leighton Taylor opens with clear explanations of the weird conditions deep under the ocean – darkness, intense pressure and little food. He introduces animals whose names indicate the horror they inspire: the black sea dragon, the vampire squid and the viperfish are just a few. Stunning color photographs and clear text will help children understand not just how strange these animals are, but how cleverly they have adapted to extreme conditions.

          How have scientists learned about deep ocean life? Deborah Kovacs’ “Dive to the Deep Ocean” tells the story through a history of the “Alvin,” the first manned submersible to dive up to three miles down into the ocean.
          The story of Alvin is a story of human ingenuity, but it’s also a story about the value of persistence. First launched in 1964, over the years the Alvin has been trapped in a narrow fissure in the sea floor, filled with water and sunk to the bottom of the sea (luckily, the passengers made it to safety, and the Alvin was finally spotted and brought to the surface), and been disassembled and reassembled every few years to ensure its safety. Over the last forty years, Alvin has been fitted with the most up-to-date technology, and its cameras, robotic arms and halogen lights allow scientists to illuminate the deep-sea darkness and record what they find there.
          It was in the 1970s that the Alvin first descended to the hydrothermal vents near the Galapagos Islands. Expecting to see a desert of mud and rocks, scientists were astonished to discover giant creatures living in water that was not only much hotter than the surrounding seawater but filled with chemicals that would be deadly to most forms of life. 
          Research like this underlies the discoveries in “Beneath Blue Waters” by Deborah Kovacs and Kate Madin, which describes the creatures found from sea level down to the benthopelagic zone at the bottom of the ocean. Here you’ll meet the deep-sea cucumber, translucent in the submersible’s spotlight, and the enormous jellyfish known as Deepstaria enigmatica, so big that it takes several moments for its body to move past the sub’s window. 
          Steve Jenkins uses intricate paper collage illustrations in “Down, Down, Down: A Journey to the Bottom of the Sea.” Sea life from the very surface of the ocean down to the benthopelagic depths is displayed against a background that gets darker as each page progresses downwards. Sidebars and endnotes offer tantalizing information about the mysterious creatures that live in this recently discovered and now endangered environment.



First published in the Free Lance-Star on May 25, 2010.